Q&A: How to deal with an aggressive dog next door

A brown dog in the woods with a couple. Photo by Zivica Kerkez/Shutterstock

We have a new neighbour. Recently, his dog attacked us when we were out for a walk on the road. Yesterday, another neighbour was also attacked. I called animal control and bought pepper spray and an air horn. My husband carries a baseball bat. What else should we do? —Jane Bischoff, via email

This is a tough one. Dog bylaws vary, but your call should trigger some kind of investigation. If you haven’t already talked to the dog owner, do that too. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: most people don’t “purpose-train” their dogs to protect property or attack, says Dean Audet, the owner of The Great Canadian Dog Academy in Kamloops, B.C.

And if this dog comes at you again? There is no perfect strategy, says Audet. “But here’s what I would do. I’d stand my ground and be more intense than the dog and tell the dog to back down and back off. But what’s comfortable for me is not necessarily comfortable for you.”

Dogs react to your emotions. High- pitched shrieking or running away are bad moves. Better? Staying calm and standing with your arms close to your body and your gaze averted.

“We tell kids, ‘Be a tree,’ ” says Dorothy Litwin, an animal behaviourist who works with aggressive dogs. “Someone has to de-escalate the situation. The dog’s not going to do it. So you have to do it.” If the dog no longer thinks you’re a threat, it may lose interest.

Carrying a tool can help if it makes you feel more confident, says Audet. “It’s like a psychological switch.” But he recommends a walking stick over a bat. “It’s longer, and it can act as a boundary setter for the dog.” Hold it out; use it as a blocker. “If a dog is within baseball bat range, he’s too close.” (Also, walking around with a walking stick looks normal. Walking around with an air horn and a baseball bat looks like you’re about to loot a RadioShack.)

These aren’t long-term solutions. But at least they might make you less fearful. “One person having a dog shouldn’t impede other people,” says Litwin. “You don’t want to be afraid at the cottage.”

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